Syria meet in Tunis to hammer out new plan
LONDON / DAMASCUS
An Iraqi firefighter douses a car as security forces inspect the site of a blast. AFP PhotoArab and Western powers are expected to challenge the Syrian regime to accept a proposal to allow in humanitarian aid at a so-called “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis today, as government forces resume shelling an opposition stronghold in the restive central city of Homs, where hundreds have died in a weeklong siege.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the “unified humanitarian proposal” with counterparts, on the sidelines of an international conference on Somalia in London yesterday. “The challenge is for the Syrian regime to respond to this,” a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. “I think one of the things you are going to see coming out of the meeting tomorrow are concrete proposals” on the supply of aid “within days,” the official added.
Across the country, at least 16 people were killed in attacks by security forces yesterday. The Local Coordination Committees activist network said the overall number of Syrians killed was 40. About 30 people, including two Western journalists, were killed in shelling on Feb. 22, most of them in the rebel-held Baba Amr neighborhood, which is the center of resistance in the city. Homs has been under a fierce government attack for nearly three weeks.
The U.N. wants to send its humanitarian chief Valerie Amos to Syria to press for greater access for aid groups, a U.N. spokesman said Feb. 22.
Today’s Friends of Syria meeting is expected to issue an ultimatum for Bashar al-Assad to agree to a ceasefire within days and allow humanitarian aid into areas hardest hit by his regime’s crackdown. Davutoğlu was scheduled to fly to Tunis late yesterday after attending the conference in London. In the British capital, the foreign minister held talks with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, during which the Syrian turmoil and the Cyprus conflict topped the agenda.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague had earlier said he would push for a tightening of the diplomatic and economic “stranglehold” on Syria at the Tunis meeting. Ankara says the meeting must deliver a strong warning to al-Assad and a robust message of solidarity with the Syrian people. It is pushing for the establishment of “humanitarian corridors” to Syria to enable aid agencies to take emergency supplies to Syrians caught up in the bloody conflict.
China again refused yesterday to say whether it would attend a global conference aimed at ending the violence in Syria, as the bloody crackdown on protesters intensified.
Russia and China yesterday confirmed their joint opposition to foreign intervention in Syria and their support for talks with the Damascus regime, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi held telephone talks, in which “they reaffirmed their joint position,” the ministry said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also affirmed in telephone talks on Feb. 22 that they rejected foreign intervention in Syria, the Kremlin said. Al-Assad’s regime will not fall and Iran stands beside it, the top foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday. “The Islamic Republic of Iran supports the Syrian government and will oppose those who act against Syria,” Ali Akbar Velayati said in remarks reported by the Fars news agency.
The shelling of Baba Amr killed veteran American-born war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik on Feb. 22. The Syrian regime denied responsibility for the killing of the two journalists, who it says had “sneaked” into the country. France and Britain are working on transferring the two French and one British journalists wounded in Homs Feb. 22 to Lebanon.
Meanwhile, international investigators have submitted a list of Syrian military and political officials suspected of crimes against humanity to the U.N.’s top human rights official, a U.N report said yesterday.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.